Poll: RS autonomy

While many argue that women having the priesthood would upset the balance of power at the ward levels (referred to as “the Bishop jump” by Dane Laverty of Agitating Faithfully) is it possible that women having more authority and weight given to their spheres in the church might alleviate some of the problems Feminists have with the church today? If our revelation were treated as equal in relevance to our priesthood holding brethren’s, would many of the dynamics change? Would we be closer to the equality we desire, whatever form we envision that taking?

What if a Relief Society or Young Women’s President didn’t feel the need to run things by the Bishop? How would this change the way we function as a group? Do you think that women in positions of relative authority should be trusted to seek revelation for those in their care and not feel the need to get approval or explain themselves? Would it be a positive difference or chaos? It would be so nice to see some of the uses for the organization as it existed in it’s early days return to practice, and for women to trust in their own authority a bit more. What do you think?


Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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13 Responses

  1. CatherineWO says:

    For those who are interested, the original minutes of the Nauvoo R.S. are now available to be read on the Joseph Smith Papers website (josephsmithpapers.org). Though interesting to read in and of itself, this document means even more when studied within the context of the time.
    I think we tend to idealize that early organization more than we should, but I also can think of nothing positive to say about “priesthood correlation.”

    • Corktree says:

      I agree Catherine and that to return to how it was would be a mistake. But I do think some of the facets of how it was run and the work that it did as an organization could be useful to understand and implement.

  2. Corktree says:

    My husband made an interesting observation after church today in response to my frustrations with things that were said in meetings and the fact that today there are people fasting to know the will of God as revealed to the prophet concerning the priesthood for women. He said that it seems like what we really want is to have use of authority and representation in leadership, and that he can’t really see why the priesthood is necessary for that. He said that it seems like we should be able to restructure the church without ordaining women, but not that he’s against ordination. However, I tend to think that granting women official use may be the only way to change the structure, and that this is simply the way it has become, not the way it *should* be.

  3. spunky says:

    I think that giving Relief Society increased autonomy will give men the excuse to further isolate women’s influence in the overall church under the guise that “women have relief society” and “men have priesthood”. I think in this way, it can only harm women because the Relief Society is no organizationally equivalent to Priesthood classes, i.e. the Relief Society president does not have the same sphere or influence as a Bishop, therefore, isolating her position and the women’s group can only weaken the strength (if there is any strength) of the Relief Society.

    I think the precursory answer in welcoming priesthood authority in women is if we require men to join the relief society, or be governed by the relief society– someone suggest once that relief society would be a great organizational for monitoring home teaching and visiting teaching.

    I do not think separate but equal works anywhere, so I think giving women authority over something of men, and incorporating men into the Relief Society (force them to ask permission of the RS president, then she has to ask permission from the Bishop if it is okay to have snacks at an activity) will better invite the concept of shared sovereignty and shared spiritual influence.

    • Corktree says:

      “i.e. the Relief Society president does not have the same sphere or influence as a Bishop,”

      This was the heart of the original question that inspired the post. If anyone wants to comment on whether a RS pres should have as much final say as a Bishop, that’s more of what was originally intended, but I thought it was more of a yes/no answer than opinion.

      And I actually suspect that you’re right, Spunky. If we segregated MORE and became an isolated organization, I’m somewhat doubtful that we would attain any desired goals for more voice and influence.

      • Jenny says:

        No, the RS pres should not have as much final say as the bishop. The one thing that makes the bishop special is that he holds the priesthood keys for the ward. The only way that authority would be equal is for women to be ordained.

        Besides, having two people in charge in one organization would be a disaster. If they disagree on any one thing then the whole organization is split. It would never work.

  4. Caroline says:

    I see where you are coming from, Spunky and Corktree, but I’m more optimistic about giving women in RS autonomy. I want to see women writing curriculum, defining goals and projects, deciding how to implement said goals and projects, controlling their own finances, etc., without passing these by men all the time. This would, I believe, raise the visibility of our women leaders. They would actually be more like leaders than figureheads, which is what I suspect we currently have now. Of course, in my ideal world, women would have priesthood and be in those quorums as well as RS, as would men, so this idea about RS autonomy is a second best case scenario for me.

    • amelia says:


      Are you suggesting that in your ideal scenario there would no longer *be* a RS as a women-only organization?

  5. Stella says:

    I think the results of the poll see where we should probably be heading.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    I agreed with all of the polling options except “weakening women’s influence.”

    I wonder–do the PH quorums and YM’s tend to run their ideas by the Bishop as much as the women do? In some wards I’ve been in, I often feel like we, as auxiliaries, run too much by the Bishop down to our book group selections.

    • spunky says:

      I agree, Emily- that women seem to seek “permission” more than men do, generally speaking. But I also think that men are conditioned to expect that of women. When I was in Stake YW, I made a flyer for Girl’s camp that advertised “flushing toilets” as one of the amenities. As I was in a very inner city stake, and me being a city girl- this was an important selling point in getting girls to attend. The Stake President said the flyer was fine but for the “flushing toilets” because he thought that was a crass thing to add to a flyer. I stated my reason for adding it, but it was a no-go. So that was removed.

      The Stake YM President made a flyer, but didn’t submit it for approval and it noted a bunch of gross silly boy things, all of which I thought were equal to my mention of flushing toilets. When I asked about it, the reason those flyers were okay was that he had the priesthood, therefore didn’t “need” to seek permission from priesthood. As his own priesthood, his flyers were fine. The Stake president concurred.

      It seemed to me that as a female I need to ensure my work was checked, whereas a 12 year old deacon doesn’t need approval for flyers or posters because he has the priesthood. (This man was not a 12 year old, but still- it implies that 12 year old boys have better spiritual enlightenment than me because they have priesthood)

      This is why I think giving the RS organization autonomy weakens it– as a service organization- does that autonomy mean that women only call each other, but must still be commanded by priesthood because the priesthood is the overall commandant authority of the church? I think this might not happen in the larger wards/stakes in the US, but consider the smaller branches in countries where women have limited political rights and limited educations- are we doing these sisters a disservice by segregating them further within their cultures? Whilst they may be able to elect and call the women of their own choice, will the priesthood elect to withhold funds from the RS because PH has financial control? Will the PH assume commandant authority over RS and make it into a maid or slave service?

      I think of the women from 1958- ?? in western and other societies who spent every spare minute making and selling items to pay of church building debt, who went in after men had spent the day in constructing the building to clean, stack bricks and store tools, but who are given little credit because they weren’t seen by men at the building site or in the recorded decision-making PH meetings. I don’t want sisters to continue to be marginalized in church history because their work is perceived to only have influence in the sphere of women, whereas the PH has effect and claim on the entirety of church operations. I don’t want women’s work to be recorded separately because it doesn’t have the scope of PH over every organization (I assume with this that men would still “set apart” the RS presidency, even if the women call each other).

      I just fear that autonomy would create a larger division and would detract from the developmental concept of women as church (not just other women’s) authority figures and leaders. Just my $0.02. 🙂

      • CatherineWO says:

        I agree with you. Women need to be seen as leaders within male circles. But, I don’t think this will ever happen until women have the priesthood. Your story of the “flushing toilets” flyers is a prime example. I have had similar experiences in which I have been told that I coundn’t do something as simple as opening the accordian doors to the overflow area before sacrament meeting without permission from someone with priesthood authority. Without the priesthood, I have a hard time believing that women will ever be seen as or treated as equals with men in the Church.

  7. Stephanie2 says:

    I don’t really see the RS having autonomy until after women receive the priesthood. Without the priesthood, by what authority would the RS function?

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